"It's very cinema verite in feel and I had to remind myself on ocassion that the movie wasn't a documentary."
All About Lily Chou Chou (2001)
Director: Shunji Iwai
Producer: Koko Maeda
Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Shugo Oshinari, Ayumi Ito, Takao Osawa, Miwako Ichikawa, Izumi Inamori, Yu Aoi, Tomohiro Kaku
Running Time: 140 min.
Plot: 8th grader Yuichi is constantly bullied at school. At home he manages a fan web site for his favorite singer, Lily Chou-Chou, and meets a fellow fan named Blue Cat. But when Yuichi heads out to a Lily concert, he's unaware of the tragedy that awaits him.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: As I sit here typing this review I'm still trying to figure out whether I like "All About Lily Chou Chou" or not.
On one hand, it's a beautiful film, filled with gorgeous images of rural Japan. The shot of young Yuichi in his school uniform listening to his CD player in a field of tall green grass is haunting and gorgeous in its composition. It's perfectly symbolic of the movie's wayward, lawless and seemingly parentless teens who are tethered to the world around them only by the ethereal music of singer Lily Chou Chou.
The performances are wonderful across the board. Particularly impressive is Hayato Ichihara (who was only 12 when filming began on "All About Lily Chou Chou") as Yûichi Hasumi, the quiet, slightly nerdy and often bullied Lily fan. He doesn't have a ton of dialogue in the film, but he manages convey that array of emotions we all felt when we were 12- and 13-years old--those first pangs of arousal, angst, jealousy, fear, humility and anger. Shûgo Oshinari ("Battle Royale II") is fantastic as well. He plays Shusuke Hoshino, whose ascent into young adulthood the movie also chronicles. His transition from often picked-on stellar student to being a brutal bully himself is one of the more tragic aspects of the film, yet also one of its most captivating.
And the music? Is incredible. As soon as the movie was finished I went online to track down its soundtrack (and in the process discovered that some of "Lily Chou Chou's" score, by composer Takeshi Kobayashi, made its way into Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 1"). Both the faux pop songs by the fictional Lily and the haunting score are a delight. It's easy to see why these kids would be so captivated by her music.
I also enjoyed the way "All About Lily Chou Chou" was shot. It's very cinema verite in feel and I had to remind myself on ocassion that the movie wasn't a documentary. The many scenes shot with handheld cameras made me feel like I was tagging along with these kids, whether on an ill-fated vacation to Okinawa or an assault on one of their classmates. The handhelds really did manage to draw me in further than I would have been otherwise. I felt like I was actual witness to some of the events in the movie, but was ultimately powerless--as Yuichi often is--to affect any of it.
On the OTHER hand, "All About Lily Chou Chou" is essentially plotless. The only constant throughout is the teen's fascination with Lily and their anonymous online rants about what her music means to them. It's a very tenuous thread, and the film's climax is minimized to near-inconsequence by a myriad of other things going on. The climax isn't really a climax at all, just another bump on these kids' road to maturity and adulthood. It doesn't have near the impact I'm guessing the filmakers wanted it to have. And be forewarned that the narrative jumps around A LOT, to the point of distraction. By the time I figured out I was watching a flashback, the flashback would be over and I'd struggle to stay apace of "Chou Chou's" meandering "story."
Of course, the jumpy narrative and the hodgepodge of events and the many other random goings on in the film could probably be explained away with some heavy commentary on the confusion and torment and fear surrounding that transition from preteen to teen. I'm positive that's what writer and director Shunji Iwai was shooting for when he crafted "All About Lily Chou." And on some levels it works. On some it doesn't. You're going to have to decide for yourself.
NOTE: The Panorama DVD, while beautifully packaged, is a barebones 1-disk with an AWFUL transfer. Some scenes are dark to the point of not being able to discern anything on the screen except moving shadows and subtitles. A shame, really, because Noboru Shinoda's cinematography is beautiful.
ALEXANDER'S RATING: 7.5/10